Learning experience and process
“Transformative learning (TL) is the process by which we transform our taken-for-granted frames of references (meaning perspectives, habits of mind, mind-sets) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action." (Mezirow 2012, p. 76)
A synthesis of my professional development is a result of a series of personal reflections that I consider a deeply personal process yet cognizance of the fact that my professional development has affected others and will continue to impact others (Bolton & Delderfield 2018) because I am a leader. This mindset is derived from my ability to conceptualize my learning process in line with professional growth and personal development.
My education is centrally concerned with the development of a critically aware frame of mind (Allen, 2007); in determining my professional pathway, I often critically question the values that inform my drive. This has often presented itself as a struggle in separating my role within the legal profession and self-determination to remain true as a development professional. You may ask why the struggle? People I meet and interact with automatically assume that I am a legal expert with a law degree qualification while those with the knowledge that my legal expertise originate from having a Master's of Art degree in human rights which have been enriched by practice find it hard to comprehend my reluctance to pursue a degree in law. So this struggle is interwoven between self-determination and the pressures from a dominant hegemony perspective to belong as a legal professional, where “hegemony is colluding in our own oppression by acting in ways we assume to be in our best interests because they are part of the dominant culture, but are in fact harmful” (Bolton & Delderfield, 2018, p. 54). I was certain that my learning process should not be hijacked by the legal profession but rather be pursued to build on my strong assets steeped in conceptualization of ideas, development, and implementation of those ideas for social change.
I am willing to invest in learning that sees actualization of such ideas irrespective of field and I am comfortable enough in my qualifications and skills not to be threatened anymore by certification. I must acknowledge my struggle with qualification identity was always compelling each occasion I had to contemplate completing basic forms such as travel documents, the qualification field always elicited a pause. I had gone from qualification identity as a non-profit, human rights advocate to a final comfortable and confident status of development professional. Arriving at this level and place was a process achieved through contemplative reflection that critically analyzed my growth and contributions to society and humanity, bearing in mind that critical reflection enables practitioners to explore experience, values and professional identities and express aspects within personal and professional bounds (Bolton & Delderfield, 2018).
Through purpose analysis, I have come to realize that operating from the platform of human rights field allows me to be versatile, innovative, and approach challenges from a creative system design perspective. I consider myself a critical reflective practitioner with authority over my own learning process and outcomes. In a world where dominant culture recognizes and acknowledges certification over practice, I find myself constantly balancing my learning platforms of choice between standing against oppressive determinants of qualification. I do this by choosing platforms that promote adult education as an inclusive process of practice and theory, and that legitimize learning acquired through practice (Billet, 2010; Bolton & Delderfield, 2018).
Growing the footprints of NULAI Nigeria demanded structuring the organization as a learning organization that supports professional development of staff as well as one that maintains a transparent value system. One of the strategies I use to accomplish this, is the double loop systematic questioning that constantly critically reflects with the ‘why’ (Bolton & Delderfield, 2018) on the organization growth, accountability, and responsibility, with our beneficiaries as priority. Bolton and Delderfield (2018) rightly points out that it takes confidence and courage, attributes of which I value, to enter the domain of double loop critical worlds of reflexivity. This process while daunting, I can attest is productive in building an organization that is resilient and that promotes integrity, inclusiveness, mental well-being, and accountability.
It is probably easy to connect my initial learning process as a manifestation of the adult learning theory of cognitivism. This is because my focus was driven by capacity and skills, problem solving, and active involvement in developing my own learning goals Allen (2017). I am however at the stage of further exploratory learning endeavours and have a broader perspective that is open to imbibing transformative learning. My intense pursuit of learning has afforded me the skills to negotiate the intricate corridors of government and other sectors (Bono et al.,2010), and supported my advancement in women leadership. In 2017, the pressure to articulate who I was put me at a junction with so many divergent pathways. I was somewhat fatigued, a jack of all trade and master of all. In my usual fashion, in periods of discontent I seek new knowledge. I thought learning something and finding a way to channel everything I am towards a convergence would probably offer me new ways to rekindle passion and repurpose. The Coady International Institute helped me to reposition my learning by opening my ideology to critique (Brookfield, 2001). The Coady Institute opened up adult learning principles and theories, and as Allen (2007) points out, adult learning is about developing autonomous learners as learning occurs by elaborating existing frames of reference, by learning new frames of reference, by transforming points of view, or by transforming habits of mind (Mezirow, 2012).
Through personal dialogue and journal writing I have been able to reflect on my leadership, and my responsibilities as a leader. I have reflected on my perceptions through multiple lenses which improved my ability to react to situations with calm, ensure confrontations are not reactionary and ideas are treated in an inclusive rather than dismissive approach. I have been introduced to new concepts and ideas that I was able to translate to programmes for my organization or introduce as new initiatives. One concept that stuck in a life changing way was reflective practice. It was the point where theory and practice found common ground. For me, reflective practice is something that I considered a deep personal trait but had never before articulated in words. I am now in a place where I can connect theories to my practice as my perspectives become explicit adding value to my practice (Elias & Merriam, 2005).
The Coady Institute gave me a bird’s eye view towards a convergence of my divergent practice. Applying my leadership skills in a conscious manner was easy to explore since I had the platform, the next was integrating actions and trying out every module learning. I set up a community initiative organization and started volunteering to facilitate asset-based community development for different groups. I integrated written reflections for law students in projects. I developed concepts on peace and conflict transformation and after two years was able to secure funding to launch it. I can say now that I have found my balance and understand with clarity that the later part of my life should be mapped out in a specific field that still offers me the versality to be relevant in as many fields as possible. That field for me is reflective practice. Therefore, the Master of Adult Education programme with the added advantage of distance learning offers me the opportunity to be grounded in theories of adult education, reflective practice, leadership, and community development. This foundation allows me to delve deep into my life as a reflective practitioner. I have a vision of the opportunity reflective practice presents to me. It is a career opportunity that will allow me the flexibility to support organizations, individuals, and programmes to achieve purpose. As a reflective practice practitioner and facilitator, I see myself able to delve into different professional fields and read as widely as possible, think deeply, and work ideas from conception to reality. I see different avenues for the expression of my skills possibly consultancy, academia, or volunteerism but wherever that may be, I see a smiling face everytime I envision it.
Developing this portfolio can be comparable to undertaking an activity using the tool of 'River of life' to map my learning and professional journey. This process has helped me explore what I know and what I do not know, and how much I have learnt within the short period during the Master of Adult Education programme and how much I still need to learn. I have been able to further interrogate what adult education theories I truly align with, question how much of it is a push by dominant ideology, and what translation of theories into practice would mean within my context. I see myself constantly delving into how to ensure that the advantages globalization offer does not erode our norms and values. I realize that this portfolio is but a living document, and with reflective practice will continue to evolve, a process I look forward to in anticipation and with excitement.
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